Posts Tagged ‘4K TV’

Guess What, LG? Samsung’s Got a 55-inch Curved OLED TV, Too.

Yesterday at the cavernous Cipriani’s Restaurant in New York City, Samsung let us in on what had to be the worst-kept secret of 2013: They’re bringing a 55-inch curved OLED TV to market.

By “worst-kept,” I don’t mean to imply that any Samsung employees or PR agency personnel broke any embargo rules. No, they did a fine job keeping mum until the noontime press conference.

But Samsung had previously shown this product at CES. And so had LG (three of ‘em, to be exact). When LG announced earlier this month that they had begun shipments of their $15K 55-inch curved OLED, you just knew that Samsung would answer in short order with not just one, but multiple volleys.

And answer they did! The KN55S9C is Samsung’s official entry into the OLED television market. Like the LG product, it has a slight curved screen. Unlike LG’s version, it uses RGB OLED emitters (LG employs a white OLED emitter design with color filters). And unlike the LG product, Samsung’s OLED TV will sell for less than $10,000.

In fact, the SRP for the KN559SC is $8,999.99 (OK, let’s round it up to $9,000), which should result in a price drop from the folks in Englewood Cliffs pretty quickly. Analysts have wondered just where the market for OLED TVs would start, and $10K is quite a bit below where I targeted.

 

Samsung sure knows how to stage a new product launch.

Samsung sure knows how to stage a new product launch.

Remember the Pioneer KURO plasma TVs? These look even better.

Remember the Pioneer KURO plasma TVs? The KN55S9Cs look even better than those. And they’re brighter, too.

One reason may be that Samsung is getting better-than-expected yields on their large OLED panels. (The company confirmed that, but would not be specific about actual yields.) I’ve heard that LG Display’s yields range anywhere from 10% to 30%, but would think the lower number is more realistic. So Samsung may be seeing yields in the range of 20% or so.

The pixel structure in the KN559SC is intriguing. There are actually two dark blue pixels for every single red and green pixel. (See photo.) And Samsung claims to have some sort of brightness compensation circuit to offset differential aging of the dark blue pixels. Well, running two of them at half-brightness would certainly extend their half-brightness lifetime. (The blue color materials are licensed from Universal Display Corporation in Ewing, NJ.)

This micro view of the KN55S9C shows the red, green, and blue pixel array. Notice that the blue pixels are twice the size of the red and green pixels.

This micro view of the KN55S9C shows the red, green, and blue pixel array. Notice that the blue pixels are larger than the red and green pixels.

One cool feature that Samsung showed was MultiView. OLEDs, being emissive devices like plasma display panels, have very fast on/off cycling speeds. So switching at high frame rates like 120 and 240 Hz is a walk in the park for them.

Samsung uses this characteristic to show two different video programs simultaneously, using 3D active shutter glasses to open on either the even or odd-numbered video frames (not fields). With MultiView, one person could be watching a basketball game while the other is enjoying a soap opera. Texas Instruments also showed this trick over a decade ago at CES and CEDIA Expo, using Samsung DLP rear-projection TVs.

Samsung's MultiView technology lets two viewers watch two different TV programs at the same time (even 3D) while wearing active shutter glasses.

Samsung’s MultiView technology lets two viewers watch two different TV programs at the same time (even 3D) while wearing active shutter glasses.

 

It would take a lot of upstage an 85-inch 4K TV...and apparently, a 55-inch curved OLED TV is

It would take a lot to upstage an 85-inch 4K TV…and apparently, a 55-inch curved OLED TV is “a lot.”

Almost overlooked at the event were Samsung’s UHD TVs. In addition to 55-inch and 65-inch models, the new 85-incher took a bow (I saw it previously at NAB and CES). These sets have spectacular image quality, but you’ll pay about $1K per diagonal inch for the smaller sets and a cool $40K for the 85-inch version. Look for major adjustments on those prices as the Chinese TV manufacturers start pushing more 4K product into the US market.

All of these TVs come with Samsung’s Smart TV Smart Hub feature, and each is future-proofed with the Evolution Kit interface for OS and other updates. One trend we’re starting to see is exterior frames with suspended TV screens inside them, as the 85-inch and 110-inch LCD sets from CES were shown. Now, the KN559SC borrows from this styling with a glossy black frame surrounding the TV, giving the impression that it floats. Pretty cool.

Will we see comparable products from Sony and Panasonic? Both companies have shown 56-inch 4K OLED TVs, but these products aren’t anywhere near ready for prime time. And Sony’s introduction of quantum dot backlights on their Triluminous LCD TVs took color reproduction to a new level, probably extending the dominance of LCD technology for a few more years.

Keep your eye on both the LG and Samsung TV products to see if (a) market demand is there, even at these higher prices, (b) differential aging of the blue pixels manifests as a problem or not, and (c) 4K versions of these products are announced later his year, or at the 2014 CES. That will tell you how committed both companies are to the technology…

Is Toshiba Spitting Into The Wind?

Toshiba CEO Hisao Tanaka was recently quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying he wouldn’t give up on the company’s money-losing television and computer business units.

Toshiba has lost over $500M in each of the past two years in its television business, and its personal computer operations are also coming up short as more consumers turn away from laptops in favor of tablets and large smartphones.

In terms of market share, Toshiba’s TV revenues definitely fall into the “other” category. NPD DisplaySearch’s final numbers for 2012 show Samsung with nearly 28% of worldwide TV shipments, followed by LG at 15% and the grouping of Sony, Panasonic, and Sharp combined making up 19%.

That leaves 38% for “other” and that group includes third-tier brands form China, which are growing rapidly and taking more market share every year. The last time Toshiba had any substantial market share was about two years ago when they captured 7% of the worldwide TV business. But they’ve fallen to #6 behind Sharp, who is barely hanging on to a 5% market share.

Tanaka told the Journal that Toshiba would shuffle around some employees and cut back on the number of TV models it produces. Readers may recall that Toshiba made a big splash a couple of years ago with autostereo 3D TVs at CES and continues to demo them, even though demand for 3D TVs has largely dissipated. Toshiba is also a player in 4K, with a 55-inch offering and a new 84-inch (LG Display) TV coming to market.

Many analysts (myself included) fully expected Toshiba to throw in the towel after Hitachi pulled the plug on its TV operations more than a year ago. You can still find Hitachi TVs in some retail chains, but these are merely OEM products made in Taiwan or China that have the Hitachi name slapped on them. Toshiba was expected to do the same since they do not manufacture LCD glass for televisions but buy it from various manufacturers.

What keeps the company going are profitable operating units that manufacture flash memory and power equipment, according to the WSJ story. You may recall that Toshiba did at one time manufacture small LCD panels and has also dabbled in SM OLED manufacturing, so the company is quite diversified and still able to overcome the losses from TV manufacturing and sales. And Toshiba even brought out a line of 10-inch tablets in 2011, named “Thrive.”

That’s not to say that the company is willfully stubborn. Not that many years ago, Toshiba did throw in the towel on front projectors. The company had a full line of home theater and business projectors as recently as three years ago, but couldn’t carve out enough market share to justify the expense and effort, so they simply walked away from the business.

Does Toshiba really have a trick up its sleeve? Can it become profitable again with televisions? That’s unlikely, as all of the major Japanese TV brands are trying to reverse flows of red ink, and some of them even manufacture their own LCD panels.

Tanaka said in the interview that he thinks TV sets and computers are an important part of creating “smart communities” and that health care will be a big part of the company’s focus in years to come. Toshiba certainly hasn’t given up on innovation (witness their autostereo and 4K projects) and they still have strong brand recognition worldwide.

Who knows? Maybe the winds will change direction?

THX Certifies Up-converted 4K Television

The consumer television industry needs something new that will excite consumers and stimulate sales. 3D was a bust, OLED is struggling to raise its manufacturing yields out of the mud and bring its prices down from the stratosphere, and quantum-dot-enhanced color gamuts have yet to penetrate the consumer consciousness. But Ultra HD (or 4Kx2K, or just 4K) excites both consumers and industry participants. In addition, prices are dropping rapidly and the industry’s crystal-ball gazers are predicting rapidly increasing sales.

But the industry has one immediate issue that must be resolved, and a threat that is just over the horizon and coming fast. The immediate issue is that there is essentially no 4K material in a form that consumers can buy and watch now, much less material that is broadcast or streamed. That means the only way consumers can benefit from their 4K sets is to watch material that is up-converted from 2K (or Full HD) to 4K. But is up-converted 4K material worth watching?

Sharp 70-inch THX

Sharp’s 70-inch 4K TV, available in August, is the first global TV set to receive THX’s 4K Certification. (Photo: Sharp)

The threat coming fast over the western horizon is a flood of very inexpensive Chinese 4K sets. These sets are so cheap that it’s unlikely they could be produced at the price without significant corner-cutting. The first- and second-tier brands are concerned that consumers will be seduced by these too-low prices and wind up buying sets that give them a deeply disappointing 4K viewing experience. The result, they fear, is that these sets will give 4K an undeservedly bad name that more sophisticated products will not be able to overcome.

A solution — at least a partial one — to both of these problems is to certify the quality of the native and up-converted 4K images that appear on TV sets: A “Good Housekeeping Seal” of 4K approval that will let consumers buy with confidence.

Both THX and Technicolor have announced 4K certificaion programs. On July 12th, I had a telephone conference call with members of the THX team headquartered in San Francisco. On the call were Eric Gemmer, Sr. Video Engineer; Jon Cielo, Senior Systems Engineer; and Matt Severaid, Partner Marketing Manager.

Severaid started the call with a brief recap of THX’s origins. George Lucas established THX to certify the ability of individual movie theaters to reproduce the visual and audio experience of his Star Wars movies faithfully. Lucas had been very disappointed with the quality of reproduction of the first two Star Wars movies at many cinemas. The THX standard was introduced prior to the release of The Return of the Jedi, the third movie in the series. Lucas released The Return of the Jedi only to theaters that could meet the THX standards. Naturally, the standards improved the viewers’ experience of movies, too. THX standards were applied home viewing in the 1990s, and the display program began in 2006.

The first globally available TV set to by THX 4K Certified is Sharp’s 70-inch 4K set, which will become available in August. My colleage Matt Brennesholtz saw this set at CE Week in New York in late June, and was impressed with the up-converted 4K image quality.

Cielo emphasized that THX certification assures that a TV set delivers the image the way the creator intended. “We don’t want to change content from the source material, and that includes image grain. We try to make sure the image is as beautiful as it can look.” The goal is “cinema quality in the home.”

For the Sharp 70-inch, two certified modes are the THX Cinema Mode for dark ambients and THX Movie for bright ambients. The color space for up-converted material is Rec. 709 since its based on a 2K source. An expanded color gamut will be defined under Rec. 2020, but that is under development now and a final recommendation is “way down the road.” The wider gamut seen in digital cinema and specified by the DCI standard is for professional applications and is not appropriate for consumer devices, Severaid said. Studios retune masters to accomodate the limitations of HD. “Ultimately, our goal is to present images that don’t change the meaning of the content,” Severaid said. Specifically, THX wants to be sure that the 2K-to-4K processing does not hurt the image. Following the Hippocratic Oath, “First, do no harm.”

THX authentication is based on industry standards, and focuses on panel performance, including good black-and-white uniformity and off-axis consistency. But, said Cielo, “It’s difficult to make a TV work as precisely as we would like it to.” Among the issues are light leakage and blotchiness. Most non-THX-certified sets would probably not pass the requiremets for motion artifacts and jaggies, he said.

The certification process requires collaboration between the set-maker and THX. Sharp personnel were present during testing, and available “when the TV needs to be tweaked, and they always need to be tweaked.” The tweaks are embedded in the set’s software, and sometimes a set requires modifications beyond the software before THX’s requirements are achieved.

The Sharp 70-inch with THX 4K certification produces beautiful up-converted images. Does Technicolor’s approach differ from THX’s? Is one better than the other? That is what we’ll be discussing next time.

Ken Werner is Principal of Nutmeg Consultants, specializing in the display industry, display manufacturing, display technology, and display applications. You can reach him at kwerner@nutmegconsultants.com.

 

In The Wake of CES 2013: Thoughts and Afterthoughts

It’s just over a month since the International CES, otherwise known as the world’s largest orgy of consumer electronics. Some folks are even jokingly calling it the “Chinese Electronics Show,” after the strong showing by mainland Chinese manufacturers.

I can tell you that, after sorting through over 1,200 photos and videos, I’m still discovering things I photographed in the Las Vegas Convention Center. And there have been plenty of product announcements since the show, not to mention some shifts in power among CE manufacturers.

Each year, I present on future trends in technology at InfoComm. I also travel around and offer a condensed version of this talk for dealer and distributor line shows, professional society meetings, and even for a local amateur radio club.

As you might imagine, the content of the talk is updated frequently. What I present in two weeks at the local chapter meeting of SCTE will look and sound quite a bit different by the time I get to Orlando in mid-June. But that’s the nature of the beast – there is nothing so constant in the world of electronics as change.

Even so, there are a few clear trends that aren’t likely to change in the near future. And the most important trend, one which underlies everything else, is this: Hardware is cheap, and anyone can make it.

 

This ad (and the gentleman sitting below it) pretty much sum up where CES is headed: A plethora of super-cheap products from companies you never heard of.

This ad (and the gentleman sitting below it) pretty much sum up the future of CES: Walking through endless aisles of generic, super-cheap products from companies you never heard of until your legs give out from exhaustion…

 

Think about it – you can buy a 60-inch plasma TV for less than $1,000, and that’s an everyday price. Want a nice Android tablet? You can pick them up for under $300. Blu-ray players with WiFi connectivity are now available for $70. And Roku’s XD Internet video set-top box (HD playback) is also ticketed at the same price.

Heck, you can buy an 80-inch LCD TV for less than $4,000. And that size and price combination has put a good portion of the front projector market in jeopardy. I won’t rehash previous columns here; suffice it to say that consultants, dealers, and systems integrators are putting these big screens in everywhere, and tearing out a lot of perfectly-good projector/screen combinations along the way.

But the low prices on the 80-inch Sharp TV are due to (a) excess fab capacity at Sharp’s Gen 10 Sakai LCD plant in Japan, and (b) the fact that Sharp is teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. Hence; the company is pushing the daylights out of large LCD TV and monitor sales at unbelievably low prices (less than $50 per diagonal inch).

Sharp also has a 90-inch product in their line, and anecdotal evidence shows that dealers are buying them for about $8,000 a pop. The 80-inch and 90-inch products are quite popular in two-up, side-by-side installations for videoconferencing and graphics display. And now China is getting into the game, showing 110-inch glass cuts made in Shenzen and resold by (among other brands) Samsung and Westinghouse. No one could have forseen nor desired this rapid drop in prices for LCD displays, particularly when the worldwide market for TVs is in decline.

Hardware is cheap, and anyone can make it.

 

Even at $269 (16 GB version), Barnes & Noble isn't selling anywhere near as many of these as they expected.

Even at $269 (16 GB version), Barnes & Noble isn’t selling anywhere near as many of these as they expected.

 

The other day, I was shopping in Best Buy and came across a special on USB flash drives (also known as “thumb” drives). SanDisk, celebrating its 25th year in business, was offering 8 gigabyte (GB) flash drives for $6 a pop – no coupons or rebates necessary. 16 GB models had a price tag of $10, and 32 GB drives could be scooped up for $20 apiece.

Believe it or now, flash drive capacity has blown past actual demand. With more and more people storing photos and documents “in the cloud,” there’s less of a need for portable flash memory.

Even so, it will take a long time to fill up a 32 GB flash drive. My 1,200+ photos and videos from CES needed about 3 GB of space on the 32 GB SD card installed in my Nikon CoolPix 8200 camera.

I bought a Barnes & Noble Nook HD+ tablet in December, and fitted it with a 32 GB Micro SD card.  That is a LONG way from filling up – the only files that take up any sizable room are HD movies I download for rentals (about 6 – 7 GB per movie).

You can buy 64 GB and even 128 GB flash drives now at reasonable prices. For those crazy enough to want one, you can pick up a 500 GB thumb drive for about $300 now. Of course, you can also purchase a 1 TB Western Digital MyBook for backups at a cost of just $129.95, or a Toshiba 2 TB portable HDD for less than $200.

Hardware is cheap, and anyone can make it.

 

Dock an Asus smart phone in the back of this tablet, and you have an 8-inch phone/tablet, or

Plug an Asus smart phone in the back of this tablet, and you have an 8-inch HD phone/tablet, or “phablet” – a great example of a market-disrupting, multifunction CE product.

 

The trend towards multifunction CE devices has also put a few product categories on the endangered species list. Shipments of point-and-shoot and DSLR camera declined markedly in 2011 when compared to 2010, a trend that is expected to repeat when 2012’s numbers are tallied.

The culprit? Mobile phones and tablets. Sure, they don’t have optical zoom lenses. And their image resolution still isn’t on a par with the best DSLRs and point-and-shoots. But that makes no difference to the average consumer, who is often pleasantly surprised to see just how well his or her smart phone takes HD-resolution pictures.

Last year, Canon and Nikon even introduced several models of DSLRs and pocket cameras with built-in WiFi and the Android operating system, just so people could take photos and instantly share them with friends. As far as I can tell, these products aren’t doing much to stem the decline in camera sales. After all, you can’t make phone calls or send texts with these cameras.

Nonetheless, prices for cameras have dropped to all-time lows. A nice compact point-and-shoot can be yours for less than $100, while a 16 megapixel model with 14x optical zoom and the ability to shoot 1080p/30 videos will run about $200. (As a point of reference, Canon’s first 5D-series DSLRs could shoot 3 frames per second in 2005 and cost $3,300.)

Hardware is cheap, and anyone can make it.

 

Who needs a dedicated game controller? Just use your smart phone, through its MHL connector, to do the job.

Who needs a dedicated game controller? Just use your smart phone, through its MHL connector, to do the job.

 

Even though consumers haven’t swarmed to “smart” TV functions, they do like their streaming – and Netflix is now the largest pay TV system operator in the United States, with over 25 million subscribers (yes, more than Comcast). With an ever-increasing number of viewers watching video on tablets, notebooks, and through Internet connectivity boxes like Apple TV, Boxee, and Roku, we’re seeing the leading edge of a shift in how TV shows and movies are accessed.

The phenomenon of “cord-cutting” is not new – mainstream publications have been following it for some time. But there’s evidence that the trend is accelerating, driven by ever-higher costs for pay TV subscriptions that are running above the annual rate of inflation.

And it’s Generation Y that is taking the lead here, preferring to watch episodes of popular TV shows after they become available for download or streaming at Amazon, Hulu, Vudu, Netflix, and on network Web sites. That is carrying time-shifting to an extreme, but it’s all in the name of economy.

Now, the traditional pay TV systems will tell you that cord-cutting is an aberration; a short-lived phenomenon that will run its course once younger people get married, form households, have children, and change to more traditional cable or satellite service.

Except that doesn’t appear to be happening. Just as Generation X and Y have all but pushed traditional landline telephone service into oblivion in favor of 24/7 mobile phone use, so too will they force the Comcasts, Time Warners, and DirecTVs of the world to finally offer some type of a la carte programming at lower prices.

And Gen X and Y will succeed because they’re already watching a la carte, streaming or downloading selected shows and movies at $2 – $5 a pop when it suits them. Many are supplementing Internet TV viewing with free, over-the-air broadcast HDTV services to hold the line on their entertainment budgets.

Many people buy WiFi-enabled Blu-ray players solely for the purpose of streaming. Yes, they can pop in a BD or DVD now and then, but the majority of their viewing is through that streaming port. And that is one reason why Blu-ray player prices have dropped so far and so fast.

Hardware is cheap, and anyone can make it.

 

Panasonic's NEO plasma TVs make drop-dead beautiful pictures. So how come most people still buy LCD TVs?

Panasonic’s NEO plasma TVs make drop-dead beautiful pictures at reasonable prices. So how come nearly 9 out of 10 people still buy LCD TVs?

 

When you stop and think about it, the cost of consumer electronic devices compared to the power and functionality they offer is simply mind-boggling. With a $40 Bluetooth keyboard and $60 micro mouse, my Nook HD+ is transformed into a super-compact notebook computer. I can surf the Web, watch movies and TV shows, send and receive emails, and even make a PowerPoint presentation. And all of that cost me less than $400.

Televisions with screens smaller than 50 inches can often be purchased for less than $10 per diagonal inch. For that matter, I’ve seen 26-inch and 32-inch LCD TVs for about $8 per diagonal inch, a price point at which virtually no one is making any money. This means your next TV purchase is basically amortized in less than a year, and if it breaks, you simply recycle it and buy a new one.

The glut of LCD TVs in all sizes and the resulting TV price wars are claiming one casualty – plasma. Plasma TVs were once the Rolls-Royce of TVs and commanded comparable pricing. They still have the advantage in image quality all over LCDs, particularly at wide viewing angles. Maybe they aren’t quite as bright, but they do have excellent dynamic range and deep blacks.

So what? In the third quarter of 2012, 88% of all TV shipments worldwide were LCDs. 5.5% were plasma. In fact, more CRT TVs were shipped worldwide in Q3 2012 than plasma TVs! (You could look it up, as Casey Stengel used to say.)

Clearly, price and convenience are trumping quality, adding plasma to the endangered species list. Samsung, Panasonic, and LG will continue to manufacture plasma TVs as long as there is reasonable demand, but have been shuttering factories and fabs along the way as demand drops.

More importantly, they’re not investing any more capital in upgrading or enhancing plasma technology – not while TV prices are hovering in the range of $8 – $12 per diagonal inches, LCDs account for nearly 9 out of every 10 TVs sold currently, and the Chinese are breathing down the necks of Korean and Japanese TV brands with even lower-priced models.

Hardware is cheap, and anyone can make it.

 

Haier'as 84-inch 4K LCD TV looked as good as anything in the LG and Sony booths.

Haier’s 84-inch 4K LCD TV looked as good as anything I saw in the LG and Sony booths.

 

I’ll close this essay with a look to the future of TV – specifically, 4K TV. You can shrug your shoulders, smirk, or make fun of 4K. But there’s no denying that it’s coming whether or not there is enough 4K content to watch.

4K went from being highly-anticipated at CES to “ho hum” in a single day. That’s because so many companies had 4K TVs on display, and many of those were located in China. Brands like Hisense, TCL, Skyworth, and Haier showed fully-loaded 4K TV products that were every bit as impressive as the latest “smart” TV offerings from Samsung, LG, Sony, Panasonic, and Sharp.

Not only that, the Chinese brands had multiple models of 4K TVs. While Sony and LG got some “oohs!” and “aahs!” for their 84-inch LCD offerings, Hisense had 50-inch, 55-inch, 65-inch, 84-inch, and 100-inch models flickering away in the aisles. Westinghouse Digital showed a similar portfolio in their LVH suite. Skyworth’s small booth was dominated by an 84-inch 4K set, while TCL pulled off a sensational marketing and PR coup; getting the producers of the upcoming Iron Man 3 release (May) to showcase their 110-inch 4K set in the movie. (Guess Samsung and Sharp were asleep when that happened?)

The fact is, most TV manufacturing is inexorably moving to China. Some will remain in Korea, but it’s hard to see how the Japanese can hang on, seeing as they are getting clobbered by an unfavorable exchange rate on the yen and the emergence of large LCD fabs in Taiwan and China that can make big sheets of inexpensive, good-quality LCD glass – glass that can be used in everything from tablets and phones to televisions. It’s just not a fair fight.

Hardware is cheap, and anyone can make it…

 

 

4K: HDTV Redux?

4K acquisition and display was the topic of a panel discussion I participated in during last week’s CCW / SATCON show at the Javits Center in New York City. My fellow panelists were technology guru and veteran video engineer Mark Schubin, and Larry Thorpe, senior fellow at Canon’s Imaging Technologies Group, and we gave attendees some useful perspective on what may be the next “gold rush” for television manufacturers.

Schubin’s comments pertained to just how much detail the human eye can perceive, and how contrast is often more important than viewing distance and screen sizes. (Did you know the average viewer sits about nine feet away from a TV, which measures most often between 40 and 49 inches in diagonal screen size? So much for 42-inch 4K televisions…)

He went on to add that perhaps the greatest benefit of 4K digital film and video production would be higher quality 2K HDTV delivered to the home, as 4K imaging sensors can capture far more detail than native 2K sensors because they have 4x the number of photosites.

Thorpe talked about the challenges of designing lenses for 4K cameras and illustrated that there are no lenses for 4K cameras with equivalent zoom ratios to today’s 2K camera optics – not an insurmountable obstacle, but a challenge nonetheless for camera manufacturers.

He also provided details about a live 4K broadcast earlier this of a baseball game in Japan via satellite links, using a nominal data rate of 120 Mb/s, and discussed how Fox Sports has used a pair of 4K Sony F65 cameras this season to assist NFL referees when they review challenged plays.

My comments were focused on the availability of 4K projection and direct-view displays, the majority of which are very large screens that present logistical challenges in the average home. I also gave the audience an idea of the bit rates involved in moving 4K content at high frame rates from source to display (how does 6 Gb/s per color channel at 3840×2160/60Hz with 10-bit color grab you?) and why this will be a headache for current implementations of HDMI and DisplayPort.

At the 2012 SMPTE Fall Technical Conference last month in Hollywood, I chaired a session on UHDTV, and the three papers presented detailed an 8K camera/projection system developed by NHK; a compact, 25-megapixel 70mm (4K) Panavision camera with flash memory, and an update on SMPTE standards for transporting ever-greater amounts of data as we move to higher resolution imaging and workflows.

Interestingly, the last presentation, made by John Hudson of Semtech Corporation, showed quite clearly that copper isn’t quite dead yet when it comes to high data rates, and that reaching speed as high as 96 Gb/s is clearly possible over short lengths of coaxial cable. (To be sure; there’s still plenty of work for optical fiber interfaces in broadcast and film production environments.)

Hudson talked about the SMPTE 32NF40 Multi-Link 3G Ad Hoc Group that is currently working to standardize doubling and even quadrupling of 3G HD-SDI interfaces towards the goal of achieving 6 Gb/s and 12 Gb/s uncompressed data rates, suitable for 10-bit and 12-bit 4K production workflows. He also pointed out that telecom switches capable of handling 6, 12, and even 24 Gb/s data rates are readily accessible and not cost-prohibitive.

In the consumer world, Hisense made some news when it announced three new 4K (3840×2160) edge-lit LCD TVs would launch at CES 2013. This new line, known as the XT-880 series, will be available in 50-inch, 58-inch, and 65-inch screen sizes. All three models will support active shutter 3D, come with Internet access (built-in WiFi), and are equipped with an ARM dual-core microprocessor running on Android’s Ice Cream Sandwich OS. (They even support gesture recognition and voice control!) No retail prices have been announced yet.

At CES, we’re likely to see a larger 4K TV from Toshiba, who is apparently going to source the 84-inch IPS glass that LG Display is selling to LG and Sony. Not so JVC, who confirmed to me that they have no interest in selling their 84-inch version of the LGD glass (PS-840UD) to consumers, save for high-end home theater installations. It’s more of a general-purpose 4K monitor for professional work. And we know Samsung will put the spotlight on their 85-inch 4K PVA LCD TV, which was announced two weeks ago but has yet to make its appearance in any kind of an “official’ press release photo.

Finally, I was asked by a friend in the TV industry regarding rumors that we’d hear about an updated version of HDMI, to be announced in Las Vegas. This version, which will allegedly be v1.5, will supposedly address the data transfer speed limitations of HDMI (currently capped at 8 Gb/s with overhead and 10.2 Gb/s with all overhead removed). Presently, HDMI is hard-pressed to show 4K content at frame rates higher than 30 Hz, which requires about 2.5 Gb/s per color channel for a 3840×2160 video stream).

If you hadn’t heard, there is a group of manufacturers working with Silicon Image on a specification for HDMI 2.0, which is intended to address a whole host of problems with the currently interface – not the least of which is its speed limit. One motivator for the upgrade to 2.0 is clearly DisplayPort, a competitive digital display interface targeted at notebooks and ultrabooks and which, at 17.2 Gb/s, is clearly fast enough to carry a 4K signal at 60 Hz with 10-bit color (about 6 Gb/s per channel). So a short-term ‘jump’ to HDMI 1.5 seems more like a Band-Aid right now, but you never know what the marketing guys at the big TV brands are yelling for.

JVC’s 84-inch PS-840UD will be available for home theater enthusiasts, but is really targeted at professional applications.

And speaking of DisplayPort, the Wireless Gigabit (WiGig) Alliance announced last Friday that it is now collaborating with the Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA) to define and refine a specification for 60 GHz wireless DisplayPort, using 2.6 GHz-wide channels available in many countries. So it’s entirely possible that we’ll be able to connect 4K displays without any cables at all by the time 4K content becomes widely available.

If you’ve spotted parallels between these developments and the early days of the transition to HDTV, you’re not alone. At present, there are (a) questions about what a “true” 4K resolution specification should be, (b) scarcities in cameras and production equipment, (c) bandwidth challenges to overcome, (d) high-priced displays that we know will become affordable quickly enough, and € competing interface standards.

The only thing missing is an optical disc format war, but with the Blu-ray format currently limited to 8-bit color, don’t be surprised if that conflagration breaks once again. Just like the good old days of HDTV…

 

This article originally appeared on the Display Central Web site.